The Plank

Powell In '08?


The NYT political blog reports that Hillary Clinton put some meat on the bones of her oft-stated pledge to tap both Democratic and Republican statesmen as diplomats should she become president:

While Mrs. Clinton has pointed to her husband as an emissary, it has
been unclear for some time which Republicans she had in mind. But in
South Carolina today, speaking to a group of black ministers, Mrs.
Clinton dropped a name publicly that she has hinted at privately before.

“I won’t even wait until I’m inaugurated, but as soon as I’m elected
I’m going to be asking distinguished Americans of both parties — people
like Colin Powell, for example, and others — who can represent our
country well, including someone I know very well,” Mrs. Clinton said,
according to a Fox News Web report. “Because I want to send a message
heard across the world. The era of cowboy diplomacy is over.”

Would Mr. Powell be willing to carry water for Mrs. Clinton, and
not-so-subtly rebuke Mr. Bush in the process? While Mr. Powell was
chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the start of the Clinton
administration, and served as a negotiator in Haiti for Mr. Clinton,
there is no evidence that he is interested in serving Mrs. Clinton.

And how will anti-war Democratic voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and
elsewhere feel about Mrs. Clinton’s suggestion that she wants one of
the architects of the Iraq war to serve as a goodwill ambassador? [Emphasis added.]

Am I being too cynical to think there's a reason Clinton mentioned Powell to black ministers in South Carolina and hasn't yet done so to Democratic voters in Iowa and New Hampshire?

That said, I do wonder if the Times is right to suggest that Democrats in those states would react badly to her dropping Powell's name, since I'm not sure they consider him--rightly or wrongly--an "architect" of the war so much as a casualty of it (figuratively speaking, of course). My guess is a Powell plug for Hillary--by saying he'd be honored to help her should she become president--would do her some good everywhere. But don't count on one: Powell's people issued a decidedly cool "no comment" to the Times when asked about Hillary's dropping of his name.

Actually, I wouldn't count on Powell to play any role in the '08 campaign. For what it's worth, here are the most expansive comments I've been able to find by Powell about the current presidential race. They came in a recent interview with Walter Isaacson for GQ and, like seemingly everything Powell does, they leave him plenty of wiggle room:

You’ve met with Barack Obama a couple of times and given him advice. Is it possible that you will support him?
I will give advice to any of the principal candidates. I’ve met with
others, including John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. Barack called me and
came by, and we had a long talk. Right before he decided to run, we
talked again about the presidency and the type of decisions and
problems that come in the middle of the night. I think he’s a very
impressive man, I think he’s very smart, and I think he’s going to be a
formidable candidate.

Do you think he’d be a good president?
I don’t want to start saying who would be a good president and who
wouldn’t. I will say that I don’t see any among the major candidates
who I think is unqualified to be president.

Would you be tempted to support Obama, even though he’s a Democrat, because he would be transformational?
He is transformational because he is a black man who has become one of
the leading candidates of a major party. That is exciting. It’s
transformational. But am I going to support him? I am going to be for
who I think is the best person. Not the best Republican, not the best
Democrat, not the best black guy or the best woman. I’m going to try to
figure out who could best serve this country. And that’s who I will be
voting for.

You did not say that you would be inclined to support the Republican candidate.
That’s right. I did not. Because I’ve been voting now for almost fifty
years, and I’ve always supported the person I thought was best. I’ve
voted Democratic, I’ve voted Republican. I’m going to vote for the best

It's interesting, by the way, that Powell met with Giuliani. It doesn't seem like he had much of an impact on Rudy's foreign policy thinking.

--Jason Zengerle

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